Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 Virginia 10 Miler

The Training:
This was supposed to be the year that I set a new PR for the Virginia 10 Miler. This would be the third time that I ran this race and since last year was the “appendicitis” year, this year’s race would be my first attempt to beat my original time. But life tends to get in the way of my training these days. I spent too many of those Saturday mornings drinking coffee and watching cartoons with the boys, instead of getting long runs logged (I really don’t regret spending my Saturday mornings with the boys).

I only logged two runs greater than 6 miles in the month leading up to the 10 miler. So I wasn’t too prepared to beat the 1:26:12 time I had run in my first 10 miler in 2012. So this year’s goal was to run comfortably and finish the race in the least amount of pain. To accomplish this goal I had a three step plan.

The Plan:
First, I would run the first mile as slow as possible. One thing I have learned from running races that 10 miles or greater is that starting too fast can come back to bite you, later in the race. Starting too fast is very easy to do on race day, when the excitement, adrenaline, and fresh legs can override your brain. The 10 miler course can also add to this struggle. The first 1 ½ miles of the course is downhill. Combining this downhill section with the early race energy, can create a scenario that you can pay for later in the race.

The second step of my plan was to make it to the halfway point by running a pace that was one tick above a comfortable pace. Once I got the first slower mile in, I had planned to pick up my pace just slightly. I would continue that pace until I got to the 5 mile turnaround in Riverside Park. At that point, depending on my physical state, I would decide the final step of my race plan.

If I made it to the 5 mile turnaround and my body felt good, then I would push myself harder during the second half of the race. On the other hand if I made it to this point in the race and felt horrible, then I would limp back to the finish line at any rate necessary to complete the race.

The Race:
Getting our two boys up and out the door is always a challenge. So that task is always the first goal of race day. Thanks to my wonderful wife for helping them, while I eat and triple check my gear and packed bag. We did very well this year and I got to the race with enough time to drop by bag off at my company’s tent and use the porta-john. I threw a Gu gel in my pockets and I was off to the starting line. Just like previous years, I couldn’t actually get onto the road until after the race started and the crowd at the starting line thinned out some. Once I was able to get on the course and through the starting line, the race was on!

The start of the 10 miler is very crowded, so it helps me slow down and not start with such a fast pace. I took the time to look around and enjoy the people cheering on the sidewalks and the overall excitement that all the runners were showing during this period of the race. It wasn’t long before I spotted someone I knew, Charlie Coleman. I was able to run the first mile or so with Charlie. This allowed me to ignore my pace and run comfortably for the first segment of the race.

By the time I got to the Farm Basket at the bottom of the first long decline, I was feeling pretty good. I knew the next few miles were going to be rolling hills. This challenging section of the race would lead us up to Rivermont Avenue and can really tire the legs. I just tried to keep a steady pace through this section and not over work my legs too much. I still had my plan of making it to the halfway point as comfortable as possible.

Before I knew it, we were making the turn onto Rivermont and running by the Randolph campus. The course is pretty flat during this section of the race. I knew I had about a mile until the turn around in Riverside Park. After being a little jealous of all the 4 milers who were splitting off for their finish at Randolph, I concentrated on keeping a steady pace until the turnaround.

At the five mile mark, I took a look at my time and saw that I covered the first half of the race in 44 minutes. After doing some quick math in my head, I realized that I could finish with a time very close to my previous two 10 miler races. I had finished both the previous 10 miler races with a time of 1:26, just seconds different. As planned, I was going to pick up the pace on the second half.

I decided to take my Gu gel at this point in the race, so that I may help give me some energy for the last mile up Langhorne. As I made my way back down Rivermont and back on the rolling hills of Langhorne Road, I tried to pick up my pace and run a little out of my comfort zone. As I made it back to the Farm Basket, I was hoping that I had left enough in the tank to make it up the last hill. This was the worst part of the race course. The last hill up Langhorne that stretched over a mile was very challenging on tired legs. I attacked the hill with everything I had left. By the time the finish line was in sight, my legs were dead. It took everything I had to make it to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:26:58. It was the third straight year that I had finished with a 1:26 time! I was about 48 seconds slower than last year, but without setting out to set a PR for this race, I can awful close. Without putting in the training that I really should have, I was able to run a time that was very consistent with my previous attempts. That gave me a really good feeling about the next time I run the 10 miler!

I quickly found Anna and the boys, as well as some other friends and family at the finish line. As always, it was great to see my family at end of a race. We enjoyed some food and festivities before heading back to Bedford for some Centerfest fun (followed by a nap with the boys)!  

We Honor Veterans 5k

Back in May, I was able to take part in a 5k race that took place at an awesome venue. The “We Honor Veterans 5k” is located at The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. If you are not familiar with D-Day Memorial or why it is located in Bedford, you can get more information from the memorial’s website. 19 men from Bedford were killed in Normandy on D-Day and one of those men was my great uncle Ray Stevens.

I never had the opportunity to meet Ray. But if was anything like his twin brother Roy, it would have been a blessing to know him. Roy Stevens was like another grandfather to me. Roy always lived next door to my grandparents and I have many fond memories of playing on his farm. I will never forget those post Sunday lunch tractor and truck rides on the farm to count cows. I have learned so much about what it means to be a family man from the Stevens men in my life. Harold, Roy, David, and even Brad Stevens have taught me so much about life, through the years. It is hard for me to believe that knowing Ray would have been any different.

Because of my personal connections to Bedford and the D-Day Memorial, I was very excited to be taking part in a race there. I had been looking forward to this race for months, but I found out that one of Eli’s t-ball games had been scheduled for the same morning. Just like many other races this year, it looked like I was going to have to miss the race, in order to not miss an important family event. During the week leading up to the Saturday race, I began to think about the timing of the race and the game. The game was in Montvale at 9am and the race was starting at 8am. It was doable!

I knew I was going to have to leave immediately after finishing the race, so that I would have enough time to make the drive back to Montvale. Since the start and finish of the race was at the D-Day Memorial, I knew I would not be able to park at the memorial itself. The only road leading up to the memorial parking lot was going to be closed until at least 9am. I was going to have to find a place to park where I could make a quick exit.

Since I had not preregistered for the race, I decided to park at the memorial and register before stashing my car somewhere. After registering and using the restroom, I decided to park my car at the Bedford Visitors Center, which is located about ¾ of a mile from the memorial. I would use this opportunity to warm up a little. So I made my way up the hill to the starting line. While doing so, I had to climb the worst hill in the 5k course. For anyone who hasn’t seen the memorial, it is situated on top of one of the highest hills in the town. So naturally, the trek to the top has a little incline. This warm-up session did allow me to judge how difficult the hill was going to be during the race. I would be running back up this same hill during the 3rd mile of the 5k. I was going to be a lot harder at that point!

Once I made it to the start/finish line, I realized that I didn’t have the timing chip that was supposed to be tied into my shoe laces. I just assumed that since there was no chip on my race bib, that the race would just be manually timed. At that point, I just figured that I would be running the race with no official time. It didn’t bother me because I was more excited about just running the race at the memorial. Then some of the race organizers came to the starting line and asked if there were any runners that didn’t have timing chips. I was not alone in the chip-less runners group. It was nice to know I was going to have an official time, but this development pushed the starting time back and therefor threw off my schedule of making it to the game.

When the race was finally started, we were already about 15 minutes behind. I knew I could probably finish the race in at least 25 minutes. So that would still give me 20 minutes to get the game. So I just concentrated on running at a comfortable pace while descending the hill. I have a tendency to start races at a much to fast pace, especially when the first section is downhill. In my mind, I had broken the race up into three sections; downhill, flat, uphill. So I had planned on doing three things during these sections; comfortable pace, maintain pace, attack hill!

The first section wasn’t all downhill, like I had expected. We started just below the memorial and we had to run uphill to the memorial and make a loop around the circle drive that surrounds the memorial grounds. Then it was down the hill to the visitor’s center. This was the downhill section that I to keep myself under control and not let my pace get too quick. I made myself go slower that I could have run this section, in order to save some energy for the climb back up.

Once I was to the race point where the terrain leveled out, I had to ensure that I didn’t lose momentum. I needed to carry my pace that I was running downhill through this second race section. I pushed myself to be consistent through this part of the course that ran by the visitor’s center and to the cul-de-sac at the end of the Bedford Elementary School’s road. Once we looped around the cul-de-sac, I knew I was half way there. My strategy was paying off. Because I made myself keep my comfortable pace through the downhill section, my legs still felt strong at the halfway point.

The trek back to the base of the hill went by quickly. Before I knew it, I was ready to finish the third leg of my race strategy; ATTACK! I gave that hill all I had left. I started a pretty decent pace and went my thighs started to feel the effects of the incline, I stayed strong and tried to keep my foot speed consistent.

A few months ago I started developing pains in my side while running. After doing to some reading on how to prevent side cramps, I found a technique that seems to work well for me. Since my side cramps always occur on my right side, the article I read recommended timing your exhales while the opposite foot impacts the ground. This was difficult to do for a while. But once I mastered the pattern of exhaling ever other time my left foot landed, I found myself doing it all the time. A positive side effect of running with this breathing pattern, is that my foot speed has to keep at a consistently fast pace. This method helps me avoid the long lunging strides, because I can’t keep my breathing pattern going with longer strides.

So I was able to make it to the top of the hill with just enough left in the take to make it to the finish line. When the finish line came into site, I had a dreadful realization. The course took us one more lap around the memorial before returning to the start/finish line. I was so concerned with monitoring my pace on my watch that I hadn't really looked at the overall distance covered. If I had paid more attention, I would have realized that if the race finished at the top of the hill, it would have been a half mile short of a 5k. I started to panic a little bit because I wasn't sure if I had enough energy left to make it another half mile around the memorial. But there was only one thing I could do, try my best. I put mind over matter and pushed myself around the last loop and made it safely back down the finish line for a finishing time of 24:52.

I hung around the finish line to see my buddy Charlie finish and then I was off to Eli's t-ball game. I had a nice cool down run by slowly making my way back down the hill to my car, which was parked about ¾ of a mile from the finish line. I made it to Eli's game just as they were starting, so everything had worked out. I got a text message later from my cousin Jennifer. She told me that I had placed first in my age group, so that was a nice surprise! Another great race day was in the books.